Dr Sarah Goodday is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Research Scientist with 4youandme, a non-profit organisation focused on digital technology and health. In her departmental role, Sarah is responsible for coordinating the newly formed True Colours Strategic team and consults on and conducts a variety of projects relevant to the MRC funded Pathfinder initiative which is aimed at developing a mental health data platform across the UK.
Tell us a little about yourself and what attracted you to working at the University of Oxford?
I’ve been in the Department of Psychiatry for 14 months now. Prior to this I worked as a senior research associate with the Flourish Mood Disorders Clinical Research Program in Canada. My work with the Flourish group focused on determining early psychosocial and family contributors to risk of psychopathology in offspring at high genetic risk for bipolar disorder (BD). My work more broadly has encompassed research into biopsychosocial models of adolescent mental health. I was fortunate to connect with the Co-founder and President of 4youandme during my time at Oxford and keenly jumped on board with this non-profit company. We conduct research into the feasibility of using a variety of digital devices including wearables and smartphone apps for the detection and tracking of stress and signs of chronic disease and how these approaches might return agency back to individuals. My motivation to come to Oxford was to work with those whom I really consider championing remote capture mood monitoring systems and to use the True Colours system in my own work.
What is your vision for the team/project/research you work with?
The ultimate goal of all of my work is to improve understanding into the pathophysiology of chronic diseases and in particular mood disorders through the use of innovative methodologies involving remote capture tools that might uncover new or refined phenotypes. My hope is that digital devices and systems such as True Colours – a web-based symptom monitoring tool – might become more mainstream in health systems which I think to a certain extent is inevitable. I worry a lot about the potential harms digital technology might have in this process of integration into healthcare which is why I think responsible institutions need to ensure that these systems are benefiting patients, improving outcomes, reducing inefficiencies and are ethically implemented with the data being used for the right purposes.
How did you get to where you are today?
I completed a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Toronto in Canada and became quite interested in measurement in psychiatry and how our current widely adopted systems involving crude self-reported measures administered during cross-sectional periods need a major revamp. A few years ago, I was involved in a collaborative project with the Department of Psychiatry involving the use of True Colours in the Flourish high-risk offspring cohort. The aim of this project was to understand differences in daily and weekly mood and anxiety fluctuations in offspring at high genetic risk compared to low risk offspring that might uncover early symptom trajectories in those at high-risk. Realizing the huge value this remote capture system could have for measurement from a methodological standpoint, but also for digital phenotyping, was one of the major driving factors that motivated me to pursue research at the University of Oxford.
Who or what inspires you?
While I trained in psychiatric epidemiology, if I could do it again, I would likely add neuroscience to the degree list. I’m motivated by making discovery advances in the etiology of psychiatric conditions. Beyond genetics, what is it about our perinatal, and early rearing environments, coupled with our life experiences and stress that determine our risk amongst others of breaking down? What are these lifespan exposures really doing at the neural level to cause vulnerability? I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of allostatic load that defines the cumulative wear and tear that stress has on the brain and body that ultimately produces disease. I think the use of digital technology could get us much closer to answering some of these major questions making it an exciting time to be working in science.
If you were not in your job currently, what would you like to be doing?
Possibly making and playing music. I’m a classically trained pianist and was very close to pursing this professionally before I decided to go into science at the undergraduate level. I often wonder how my life might have been if I decided to purse that path. However, the most honest answer is that I would probably still be doing research somewhere else. I love the scientific process and am not sure I would find myself doing anything else.